These aren’t the best of days for bootleggers. First, the Grateful Dead, one of rock’s few boot-friendly acts, disband. Then, this June, two New York record-store owners become the first manufacturers and sellers of illicit recordings to be convicted under a new amendment to the state’s penal code; each faces up to four years in prison. As this zealous pursuit of copyright pirates spreads, where can collectors go to buy bootlegs of their heroes’ unreleased studio scraps and concert recordings, or material the artists prefer not be issued? How about your neighborhood Virgin or Tower? In the last few months, a wave of unauthorized superstar discs have infiltrated the racks at major chains.
Despite his reggae tendencies and bleached spike of hair, Sting never really seemed like a punk rocker, did he? The conclusive proof arrives in the cheekily titled Police Academy by Strontium 90, an extremely short-lived 1976 band that first brought together Policemen Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland (and former Gong guitarist Mike Howlett). These previously unreleased live and studio recordings, compiled by former Police manager Miles Copeland (and released with Sting’s approval) were recorded just as Britain’s safety-pin scene was peaking. Yet by that time, Strontium 90 were already leagues beyond punk. The numerous tempo changes in ”Electron Romance” or the complex guitar leads in ”New World Blues,” for instance, are marks of a band already aiming straight for the rock mainstream. The nine songs themselves are flimsy, but the band’s bristling energy often compensates. The track that should make collectors drool — and which, again, suggests that Sting always knew exactly where he was going — is his solo demo of ”Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”: Aside from its mild bossa nova feel, it’s almost precisely the same version the Police would record five years later. B-